AWS cloud storage: The flexibility of Elastic Block Storage

EBS is an example of how the flexibility and simplicity of utilizing cloud storage has improved in recent years.

Retiring technical debt is a top challenge for all-in cloud model: Madhusudan Shekar, Amazon Interne
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There is so much more to the cloud today than one would have thought just a few short years ago. In terms of migration, storage and ease-of-use, there have been a plethora of articles and white-papers written on the topic. Many technology experts have shared their expertise and opinions on the cloud journey. Namely, Forrester Research has produced quite a bit of content to the subject. In timely relevance, they stated, “Hybrid cloud is not the future: It’s here today.” 

HPE’s Robert Christiansen recently contributed “Cloud transition: 5 best practices to follow” on the pages of CIO.com. His article outlined an overall strategy to the cloud. Simply put in his straightforward outline, “Cloud-first commitment, cloud economics, inner-workings of your application estate, security and governance assessment, and continuous compliance.” It’s a great article if you are looking to get started on your cloud strategy.

While there are many cloud providers and options, each will typically tout their one unique advantage over their competitors. While I make no attempt to compare the various providers out there, I want to provide an example of how the flexibility and simplicity of utilizing cloud storage has improved. 

One provider that has set many benchmarks and standards in the cloud business is obviously Amazon (AWS). What is convenient about AWS (and other cloud providers like Azure, Google, Wasabi) is their capability to offer cost-effective solutions that are easily deployable.  One of AWS’ essential product offerings is EBS (Elastic Block Store). This service has significantly improved over the last few years.

What Is Elastic Block Store (EBS)?

Amazon’s EBS is a service that stores data for the AWS EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) instances. EBS provides very durable and persistent block storage in the AWS cloud environment and is constructed on new cloud compute architecture using the latest technologies. It’s a solution for a wide variety of workloads, including large databases, file systems, containerized apps and large analytics engines.

Basically, Amazon EBS provides the essential benefits that are a part of highly virtualized environments. It provides high availability in terms of 11 nines of durability (99.999999999%), backup and redundancy, component failure protection, and of course scalability. Essentially, Amazon EBS offers steroid-type cloud power to storage.

Why Elastic Block Store?

Simply put, EBS allows for quick configuration, deployment and management. EBS has taken much of the complication out of your cloud management and focuses on the ease of use. This flexible platform is a must-have for your mission-critical storage and system needs. EBS has several volume types to allow for the right performance and pricing for your business needs. You can easily swap volume types or increase the size without interrupting your crucial business applications, making this an ideal solution for cost-effective storage as your need arises.

Key benefits of this service include, but are not limited to:

  • Highest standards for low latency and throughput
  • High Availability SLAs
  • Geographic protection for best business continuity
  • Nearly unlimited scalability
  • Strong security (in-flight and at-rest encryption)
  • Simple management
  • Affordability

These are must-have characteristics for your data peace of mind.  However, at the end of the day, you don’t want any complicated configuration or headaches with managing your EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) cloud space. You want a block storage service created specifically for your EC2 environment for an easy-to-use, easy-to-deploy solution, with top performance in terms of transaction-intensive or throughput jobs.

So how do you balance your IOPS (Input/Output Operations Per Second) performance and throughput for your business needs? Well with EBS there are two volume types – Solid State Drive (SSD) volumes and Hard Disk Drive (HDD) volumes. These configurations permit you to enhance your storage to fit your specific needs from a cost-to-performance standpoint. SSD storage is most appropriate for situations that work with smaller data blocks. This would be in cases where you have high transactional activity, as with databases, or possibly with boot volumes in your EC2 environment.  Alternatively, you would utilize HDD volumes requiring higher rates of throughput (large data blocks), such as working with large analytics engines or logging information.

True flexibility?

You want that resiliency and high availability, but how much effort requires you to configure and manage it? What’s nice about EBS is its ability to deliver point-in-time snapshots of your entire volume(s) at the click of a button or configure it to automatically be scheduled. With your snapshots being incremental, you are only copying data that was modified since the previous snapshot. You can then produce a new volume from that snapshot. Whether in a test setting or a real disaster recovery scenario, you’ll easily be able to reproduce the data volume out of your snapshot and easily attach the volume to a new or existing EC2 instance.  Additionally, AWS offers the added flexibility to copy your snapshot from one region to another region.

Rest assured, with every write to your EBS volume, that data is reproduced multiple times within your same availability zone to prevent a complete data loss. What’s key here, should your availability zone be unavailable, you’ll still be able to reproduce the volume from your snapshot, which is available from all availability zones within your region, and connect it in another availability zone to another instance. Since EBS volumes are separate from your EC2 instance (these are two independent resources), if your instances are interrupted, stopped or terminated, you’ll know your data is still intact.

EBS is impressive, but it’s not a silver bullet

While EBS and its features may not be news to many cloud engineers and architects, it’s important you do your research on EBS’ capabilities and fully understand where those meet (or don’t meet) your business needs. Additionally, it is important while EBS provides great flexibility, resiliency, and peace of mind with its “11 nines of durability” as I previously mentioned, this is not a silver bullet or one-size-fits-all.

Although EBS is impressive and has truly improved in the last few years, incorporating various elements and storage types, including the newer “Provisioned IOPS” feature, there is a slight drawback to this and EBS currently. You will need to plan for how much space you need to apportion in advance, and you will pay for that space whether it is used or not. This may be a deal-breaker for some SMBs based on their budget. However, given time or another cloud provider comes out with the feature, this may be addressed in the not-so-distant future.

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